Low river levels beach boats, docks, properties
Heather Horak has no way in or out of her Cantley cottage after Hydro-Quebec lowered the level of the Gatineau River — or what she would call her driveway.
“I made it about five days, but when it comes to entering and exiting, it’s treacherous,” Horak told the Low Down last week. “It’s muddy and slippery and you can’t get in or out.”
Horak is one of nine properties on Chemin Pavillon in Cantley that are “landlocked,” as the road doesn’t extend to serve all the cottages, and those who live there must travel in and out by boat.
Usually it’s no problem, as Horak said she easily rips across the water in her boat to grab groceries, go to the doctor or do her daily errands. But after Hydro-Quebec lowered the water more than a metre on Sept. 11 to remove a temporary platform at the Chelsea dam, she has no access to her three-and-a-half-season cottage.
Horak said it was a similar situation last year when Hydro-Quebec lowered the river levels by a metre to work on the dam, but she skeptically raised her eyebrows at the one-metre stat this year, adding that, while she has run out of water in previous years, she has never had to evacuate the property.
“[The river] has dropped one metre before, and I’ve been fine with a one-metre drop,” she said. “[But] it didn’t drop a metre, it dropped, like, three metres.”
Wakefield residents Gloria Rudenberg and her partner, Jim, are also out of water at their Riverside Drive home, as they are on a surface well, and when Hydro-Quebec lowers the level of the Gatineau River, the entire water table near the river drops. That means people like the Rudenbergs have to “let it mellow, if it’s yellow” and avoid everyday luxuries like showers and hot baths.
“I ran the dishwasher and that was the end of it,” said Gloria with a chuckle. “Compared to what’s happening in other parts of the world — we can go to the spring and get some water. It’s a temporary period. Is there frustration? Well, a little bit — you can’t flush the toilet everytime like we are used to, but we are not in a refugee camp.”
The lowering of the river is a shocking sight to many who venture near the shoreline and see the bare riverbanks sloping downwards, with multiple boats and docks fully beached. Many docks aren’t even accessible to the public because the water is so low.
According to Hydro-Quebec, the Gatineau River was lowered to 96 metres upstream of the Chelsea dam, where contractors were working. Spokesperson Caroline Milliard told the Low Down that homeowners along the river were notified that the water would be lowered in an April letter, which described the work and the timeline.
“Hydro-Quebec operates its facilities according to its rights and the permits granted by the competent authorities. These rights provide for fluctuations in the river level as well as the possible consequences,” said Milliard. “Hydro-Quebec cannot be held responsible for these consequences. However, the company is aware of the situation in which waterfront property owners find themselves and tries to limit the impact of the work as much as possible.”
According to Hydro Quebec, the work is now done - ahead of schedule - and the power company began raising the river levels as of Sept. 20. Hydro said the river should be back to its usual measurement of between 97.30 and 97.45 metres by the weekend.